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A Societal and Cultural Perspective: The Takers and the Leavers

An excellent example of paper 2 by Autumn Kniel - spring 2008

Through reading Daniel Quinn's Ishmael, the reader is introduced to two very different societies that live on Earth together, but not so harmoniously or cooperatively. These two societies are the Takers and the Leavers. The Takers can be seen as the people of "civilized" cultures and the Leavers as those of "primitive" cultures (Quinn, 39). In other words, the Takers are you and I and culture of Ishmael's pupil, while the Leavers are those people of all the other cultures besides our own lumped together (Quinn, 39). Also, according to Ishmael, a story is a scenario interrelating man, the world, and the gods, while culture can be seen as a people enacting a story (Quinn, 41). To enact a story is "to live so as to make the story a reality" (Quinn, 41). It is here where we dissect the stories that the Takers and the Leavers are enacting, as well as the effects of having the Takers and the Leavers co-inhabit our planet.

Through reading and understanding the above definitions, it becomes clear that the Leavers and the Takers must be enacting two very distinct stories, since their cultures are so different. The story being enacted by the Takers is one of greed and domination. This story concentrates on three main points: that man is the end of evolution, that man to believes that the world was made for him, and that the ultimate goal of man is to conquer the world (Quinn, 57-61). The enactment of the first of these points in the Takers story, that man is the pinnacle if evolution, is almost something that is assumed in the Taker culture. People here never speak about what species will replace man or what man will eventually further evolve into. These ideas are never even entertained because within this Taker culture, it is the assumption that man is the Supreme Being and everything else in the universe on the planet belongs to man (Quinn, 57). This is inherently what the Takers believe to be true, and this is almost never questioned.

The second aspect to the Takers story, that man believes that that Earth was created for him and belongs to him, can be seen through looking at the various ways in which this culture abuses and destroys the natural resources of our planet. From air pollution, mindless use of fresh water, careless population growth, and excess use of oil it is clear that the Takers believe that the world was created for them to use as they will. I believe that it is because of the fact that the Takers do not believe any species will follow them in the course of evolution, that they have and continue to use and abuse the Earth in order to continue working toward creating their own "paradise" (Quinn, 82).

The last piece of the story that the Takers are enacting is that man is working toward conquering the world as its ultimate goal. This aspect of the Takers story is meant to lead man to this paradise of a world in which he has everything: technology, commerce, agriculture, literacy, etc (Quinn, 80). Man's conquest of the world was meant to empower him and to make mastery of his planet. This is not however, what has indeed happened.

The effects of this story that the Takers have been enacting for many, many years are numerous. First, by the Takers believing man is the end all be all for evolution, they have created a situation in which there is no responsibility or reason to protect, nurture, and preserve our planet. What is happening currently, I believe as a result of this mentality, is a conscious destruction of the plant for the well-being and greed of man because it simply does not have any consequences to him and the rest of the Takers. If there is not anyone or anything to follow, then why not use up all of the natural resources so we can have huge cars and why not cut down all of the trees to build more houses to sustain the population explosion that is occurring? This population crisis is an additional example of a devastating effect on the second aspect of the Takers story, which reads that man believes that the world is his playground and was created for him. In thinking in this fashion, the Takers have no reason to halt the rapid population growth because it was all made for him to use at his will! Within this method of thinking, the Takers continue to cultivate more and more land, to expand urban sprawl, and to further push non-Taker societies away. This leads to the serious consequence of man's goal to conquer the world, which has and continues to involve its destruction and abuse, anything but beneficial. In this conquest of the Takers, our world is being used up and because of our greed and hunger for more, we are unable to stop or reverse the deterioration of Earth's resources and gifts.

About two or three million years before the Takers began enacting their story, a different cultural group, the Leavers, had been already living out their own story, that which centers on leaving their lives in the hands of the gods, and embracing a sense of belonging to the world (Quinn, 240). Leaver societies still exist in our world today, but number very few. This, however, does not discount the huge impact their story has had and continues to have on the wider world. This cultural story of the Leavers centers on peace and harmony with the land and surrounding people. This story encompasses taking what you need from the world and giving back to it in return; helping out your neighbors when they need it; truly living knowing that their lives are simply in the hands of the gods. Enacting this story has been very efficient and successful for over two million years and, for the very few Leaver cultures remaining, continues to work today.

Despite the fact that this story promotes order and helps to create the natural balance of the world, Takers would not dare to enact this story. In their eyes, this story is a miserable way to live, one full of sacrifice and the unknowns (Quinn, 224). Takers have chosen to live their lives as though they are responsible for themselves and in doing so, have removed the idea of the gods as in control of their destiny. Because of this, there has been a severe need of the Takers to feel as though they are in complete control over their lives and when this does not go as planned, there is often anxiety, depression, and a drastic sense of fear that sets in. As this occurs, the Leavers continue to live their simple lives and in doing so, work less, eat healthier, have more time for social interactions, and create an innate sense of community that is virtually unbreakable.

In thinking about challenges relating to the story of the Leavers, only one comes to mind: the Takers. For, it has been the Takers over many, many years that have tried hard to rid of the Leavers story in order to make their own more prosperous and rich. They have done so with one main goal in mind: to take over their land and cultivate it, for agriculture has been the Takers main goal for a countless number of years. In this process, the Takers have nearly eradicated the Leavers of the world, without much remorse or second thought. The reason for this can be found within the story that the Takers have been enacting for years; one full of greed and disregard for anyone of anything but themselves in order to have more and better of everything. The last pieces of land that the Takers have not been able to get their hands on still largely belong to the Leavers. This, I am afraid, may be the case for too much longer.

Through reading Ishmael, I have been awakened to two important ideals, two stories that have made me look a bit differently at the world and at the society to which I am a part of. The different cultural stories being enacted by both the Takers and the Leavers have been perfectly illustrated in my mind, and I must say that in most ways, I identify more with the Leavers story, although it is all but impossible for me to live my life here in America in this fashion. What I have done and will continue to do though, is to remember the simplicity in the cultural story of the Leavers, for it gives me hope and helps to keep me grounded in times when the hectic nature of the story I am enacting, along with the other Takers of the world, leaves me hopeless, defeated, and overwhelmed.
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Quinn, Daniel. Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit. United States of
America: Bantam Books, 1992